In the past two months, New Yorkers have experienced a hurricane (that was soon downgraded to a tropical storm) and the after-shocks of an earthquake, both meteorological and geological occurrences most of this city’s dwellers would have considered themselves immune to—aren’t subway delays and finding a cab in the rain painful enough experiences to inoculate against such punishment?
A selection of New Yorkers got a taste of Armageddon on a larger scale Monday night, when Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” had its premiere at Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival. Unsurprisingly, von Trier, whose last NYFF selection the 2009 “Antichrist” caused a man to have a seizure in my particular screening, did not limit himself to transit crises or mundane weather conditions in his work, described in press notes as “a psychological disaster film.” Instead, the haunting, stunningly shot movie has Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a young woman celebrating her marriage to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) as a planet called Melancholia is on a path towards hitting Earth. Set in the lavish mansion owned by Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland), the wedding festivities soon devolve into a mess of tense words and fractured relations, as anxiety mounts over Melancholia’s approach.
After the screening at Alice Tully Hall that had viewers behind me muttering “Jesus” and “Oh god” and later “I don’t understand,” Dunst, Gainsbourg and Skarsgard gathered on stage for a Q&A.
Sample audience questions (spoiler alert):
Why did you cover Kiefer Sutherland with the hay?
Gainsbourg: To hide him.
What is the 19th hole?
Gainsbourg: I don’t know.
Are you going to miss these characters and what parts would you miss the most?
In unison: NO.
The cast was also asked how they went about preparing for such a fantastical endeavor, to which Skarsgard, whose Michael is mainly in the first half of the film replied, “I don’t even see the planet in the movie so I didn’t do shit.” (Dunst concocted a backstory wherein she might be from Melancholia, explaining her seeming sixth sense about its movement throughout the film.)
Also, how exactly does one shoot a scene in which the world is ending?
“I thought we nailed it [on the first try],” said Gainsbourg.
“Me, too,” added Dunst.
“But then Lars said, ‘I want to shoot the scene again tomorrow and maybe the next day and the next day,’” recalled Gainsbourg. “It was torture. And I enjoyed it.”